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Delta extends elite status, makes basic economy more flexible again

(Charlie Riedel/AP)

Delta Air Lines announced steps Tuesday to cater to both its highest-spending passengers and those who try to spend the least.

In a letter to frequent fliers, CEO Ed Bastian said the carrier is extending elite status and upgrade certificates for frequent fliers until Jan. 31, 2023. American and United have both said they are extending elite status through January 2022.

“Your loyalty to Delta has never been more important, and we’re committed to earning it as we move into the recovery and beyond,” Bastian wrote.

He said that as of Wednesday, passengers who book the least expensive, most restrictive tickets — called basic economy — can make changes to flights scheduled through the end of the year “to help address call wait times as we increase staffing.” There will be no fee to make changes.

Typically, those types of tickets can’t be changed. Spokesman Morgan Durrant said in an email that the airline had relaxed the restriction on basic economy changes because of the pandemic. That flexibility ended on May 1, but the airline is bringing it back.

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The CEO’s letter acknowledged “some unforeseen challenges” with record call volumes and changes to flights. Customers have complained about hold times of several hours as the number of travelers increases, flight schedules change and staffing remains a challenge.

“As you take a much-deserved vacation or travel to reunite with loved ones, friends and business colleagues, the last thing you want is to experience long hold times when you call reservations or receive a notification that your flight schedule has changed,” Bastian wrote.

He said Delta is bringing back hundreds of former employees and hiring 1,300 customer service specialists who will be in action by September.

“We are committed to restoring and exceeding the reliability and service you’ve come to expect from us,” Bastian wrote.